The most recent heritage listing in the 62 places of industry selected by City of Sydney is a 1970s warehouse known as the Q Store, built by Harry Seidler and refurbished by Lacoste and Stevenson prior to the listing. The refurbishment has been very nicely done. It retains the contrast of softness and force evident in Seidler’s design and looks like a close enough approximation to the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra. It’s light industry materially manifest and wouldn’t look out of place among the exhibition architecture of Philip Cox in the 1980s, with the exposed structural features in white painted metal and sculptural cement columns.
The architects described their brief as compelling them to treat the site like a heritage item that hadn’t been listed yet. This is an example that’s likenable to what Rem Koolhaas has described as prospective preservation, whereby we “decide in advance what we are going to build for posterity.” Koolhaas notes that in 1818 the interval between the present and what was preserved was two thousand years, in 1900, two hundred years and now it is twenty years or less, which is about the limit for the amount of time required to elapse in the nostalgia cycles that supposedly operate in pop culture.
Koolhaas seems largely cynical about this compulsion to preserve. But it needn’t be interpreted this way, as long as it isn’t stifling the practical considerations of architects and builders.
The bulk of heritage listed industrial items in the City of Sydney are pre 1970s. Nearly all of them are some combination of brick and cement, with the red brick, functionalist or deco facade arguably the stereotypical example. Pebbledash and cement buildings are less well represented on the inventory.
Unlike the duel warehouse-shop functionality of the contemporary Bunnings model, most of the listed buildings were warehouses or factories that for better or worse were insensitive to the interior design demands of contemporary showrooms–apart from the former Joseph Lucas building, which is now the Larke Hoskins car dealership. They have a distinctively different look to the post 1970s buildings in the area that often incorporate a significant glazing, either with elongated strips of wrap around, heavily tinted windows in the facade or in a boxy section jutting out from the site of the building supported by columns.
I wonder what decisions will be made in the future about these more recent examples of warehouse design? Will the current character of the area be recognised as valuable and worth preserving? Or will the crop of 62 or so earlier listings be deemed enough of the past to permit the forgetting of a more contemporary version of nostalgia?
Many contingencies hidden from view are at work in the decisions about what parts of the past we choose to keep. Perhaps digitised records might substitute for physical heritage in the near future? Perhaps yet to be created works of literature or film might provoke reverence for certain sites? Either way, it is enjoyable to wander around the area and earmark things as significant before they are identified as heritage items or demolished. It’s like playing the role of heritage consultant for your own personalised vision of a future past preserved.